“What Digital Divide?”

  "Jazmyn Johnson, 9, recently helped her mother, Barbara, use their high-speed DSL Intenet connection at their home in Duluth, Ga."  Source of caption and photo:  online version of NYT article cited below. 

 

(p. A1)  African-Americans are steadily gaining access to and ease with the Internet, signaling a remarkable closing of the "digital divide" that many experts had worried would be a crippling disadvantage in achieving success.

Civil rights leaders, educators and national policy makers warned for years that the Internet was bypassing blacks and some Hispanics as whites and Asian-Americans were rapidly increasing their use of it.

But the falling price of laptops, more computers in public schools and libraries and the newest generation of cellphones and hand-held devices that connect to the Internet have all contributed to closing the divide, Internet experts say.

Another powerful influence in attracting blacks and other minorities to the Internet has been the explosive evolution of the Internet itself, once mostly a tool used by researchers, which has become a cultural crossroad of work, play and social interaction.

. . .

"What digital divide?" Magic Johnson, the basketball legend, asked rhetorically in an interview about his new Internet campaign deal with the Ford Motor Company’s Lincoln Mercury division to use the Internet to promote cars to black prospective buyers.

 

For the full story, see:

MICHEL MARRIOTT.  "Blacks Turn to Internet Highway, And Digital Divide Starts to Close."  The New York Times  (Fri., March 31, 2006):  A1 & A15.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

Free Market Wealth Funds Archaeology

ReinhartLeonBanker.jpg SaturnoBillArcheologist.jpg Upper left is retired banker Leon Reinhart.  Lower right is Bill Saturno, who’s archeology dig is being funded by Reinhart.  Source of photos:  online version of WSJ article cited below.

 

(p. P1)  NORTHERN GUATEMALA — Aboard a small helicopter crossing a seemingly endless rainforest, Leon Reinhart is describing our destination, the San Bartolo archaeological site.  "We are uncovering the oldest-known Maya murals and the oldest writing anyone has ever found in the Americas," he says.

Mr. Reinhart isn’t an archaeologist.  He isn’t an academic.  He is a retired banker.

In providing funding for the excavation at San Bartolo, Mr. Reinhart is one of a growing number of bankers, entrepreneurs and philanthropists who are playing a crucial role in archaeology.  They are providing millions of dollars to study and preserve the relics of ancient civilizations from Latin America to Italy and Turkey, giving life to projects that would otherwise die.

. . .

(p. P4)  Among the other members of the new generation of benefactors is Charles Williams II, himself an archaeologist.  He directed the enormous excavation project in Corinth and has supported projects in Sicily and at Gordia in Turkey, where Alexander cut the Gordian knot.  Through his foundation, David Packard, son of the Hewlett-Packard founder, financed the work at Zeugma in southwest Turkey that rescued a large number of mosaics just before they were submerged by a new dam.  And a foundation created by Artemis Joukowsky, the former chancellor of Brown University, is funding conservation work at the Great Temple of Petra in Jordan.

Mr. Reinhart learned about San Bartolo thanks to the efforts of an investment banker, Lewis S. Ranieri, who pioneered the mortgage-securities market at Salomon Brothers in the 1980s and now is chairman of CA, the information-technology concern formerly known as Computer Associates.  Mr. Ranieri created the Foundation for the Advancement of Mesoamerican Studies, or Famsi, devoted to archaeology.

On Famsi’s Web site, Mr. Reinhart read an article about San Bartolo written by Bill Saturno, the young archaeologist who literally stumbled across the ruin in 2001.  Entering a tunnel cut by looters, he immediately understood that the paintings were much older than previously discovered Mayan murals with such complicated iconography.

Fascinated by Mr. Saturno’s article, Mr. Reinhart sent him an email.  Because the project had received grants from Famsi and the National Geographic Society, Mr. Reinhart assumed it was fully funded; he soon learned that wasn’t the case.  Mr. Saturno was borrowing on his personal credit card to keep the work going. Mr. Reinhart agreed to cover most of the needed funds — a sum that has now crossed the $1 million mark.  (Among this year’s expenses: $65,000 for stabilizing the murals and $18,700 in food.)

 

For the full story, see:

G. BRUCE KNECHT.  "Culture; The Rich Dig Deep: Archaeology’s New Players; As traditional funds for excavations fall short, wealthy benefactors are bolstering the hunt for antiquities."  The Wall Street Journal  (Sat., May 13, 2006):  P1 & P4.

 

(Note: ellipses added.)

Co-Founder of Home Depot, Funds Ambitious Georgia Aquarium

GeorgiaAquariumTube.jpg GeorgiaAquariumRays.jpg Scenes from the Georgia Aquarium.  Source of photos:  online version of the NYT article cited below.

  

(p. B1)  One of its sensations, . . ., is simply its ambition — look what we have gathered and constructed!  The Georgia Aquarium is billed as the world’s largest, and one can’t escape statistics of size and number: over 100,000 fish are displayed in five galleries and 60 habitats in the more than 500,000 square foot building; there is a 6.2 million gallon pool in which 1.8 million pounds of salt and minerals have been dissolved since last October and in which two whale sharks — the world’s largest fish — swim, displaying themselves to visitors through acrylic walls that are two feet thick.  A stainless steel "commissary" behind the scenes holds 20,000 pounds of frozen food at minus 20 degrees Fahrenheit.

This aquarium is also somewhat unusual in its origins: it is not created by a municipality, or a society of subscribers like those that founded the earliest public zoos.  It is almost completely the creation of a single man, Bernard Marcus, co-founder of the Home Depot, as a "gift" to the people of the city in which his company began.  He and his wife, Billi, donated $250 million of the $290 million cost.

. . .

(p. B7) The aquarium has been an overwhelming popular success. Even with admission prices of $22.75 for adults ($17 for children), demand has been so great that the building is often sold out.  Tickets come with timed entrances, and 290,000 annual passes, costing almost $60 for adults, were purchased before their sale was stopped in January.  A million visitors have come since the opening.

 

For the full story, see:

EDWARD ROTHSTEIN.  "Aquarium Review | The Georgia Aquarium A Hundred Thousand Fish, Behind a Pane 2 Feet Thick."  The New York Times (Thurs., March 23, 2006):  B1 & B7.

(Note: ellipses added.)

Illegal Immigration Reduces Wages for High School Dropouts by Only 3.6%

ImmigrantEffectOnWages.jpg  Source of graphic:  online version of the NYT article cited below.

 

As Congress debates an overhaul of the nation’s immigration laws, several economists and news media pundits have sounded the alarm, contending that illegal immigrants are causing harm to Americans in the competition for jobs.

Yet a more careful examination of the economic data suggests that the argument is, at the very least, overstated.  There is scant evidence that illegal immigrants have caused any significant damage to the wages of American workers.

The number that has been getting the most attention lately was produced by George J. Borjas and Lawrence F. Katz, two Harvard economists, in a paper published last year.  They estimated that the wave of illegal Mexican immigrants who arrived from 1980 to 2000 had reduced the wages of high school dropouts in the United States by 8.2 percent. But the economists acknowledge that the number does not consider other economic forces, such as the fact that certain businesses would not exist in the United States without cheap immigrant labor. If it had accounted for such things, immigration’s impact would be likely to look less than half as big.

. . .

. . . , as businesses and other economic agents have adjusted to immigration, they have made changes that have muted much of immigration’s impact on American workers.

For instance, the availability of foreign workers at low wages in the Nebraska poultry industry made companies realize that they had the personnel to expand.  So they invested in new equipment, generating jobs that would not otherwise be there.  In California’s strawberry patches, illegal immigrants are not competing against native workers; they are competing against pickers in Michoacán, Mexico.  If the immigrant pickers did not come north across the border, the strawberries would.

"Immigrants come in and the industries that use this type of labor grow," said David Card, an economist at the University of California, Berkeley.  "Taking all into account, the effects of immigration are much, much lower."

In a study published last year that compared cities that have lots of less educated immigrants with cities that have very few, Mr. Card found no wage differences that could be attributed to the presence of immigrants.

. . .

When Mr. Borjas and Mr. Katz assumed that businesses reacted to the extra workers with a corresponding increase in investment — as has happened in Nebraska — their estimate of the decline in wages of high school dropouts attributed to illegal immigrants was shaved to 4.8 percent. And they have since downgraded that number, acknowledging that the original analysis used some statistically flimsy data.

Assuming a jump in capital investment, they found that the surge in illegal immigration reduced the wages of high school dropouts by just 3.6 percent.

 

For the full commentary, see:

EDUARDO PORTER.  "ECONOMIC VIEW; Cost of Illegal Immigration May Be Less Than Meets the Eye."  The New York Times, Section 3  (Sunday, April 16, 2006):  3.

Increases in Demand for Online Video, Stabilize Prices for Fiber-Optics Lines

FiberOpticPricing.gif Source of graphic:  online version of WSJ article cited below.

 

(p. B1)  At long last, the pipes are starting to fill up.

For years, the fiber-optic communications industry has been awash in spare capacity that sent prices for data transmission plunging.  Now, thanks to continued growth in Internet traffic, demand is beginning to catch up with supply in many areas of the active global network.

Still, plenty of inactive fiber-optic lines remain — the majority of the lines put into the ground or underwater have gone unused for years and can be activated on short notice and relatively inexpensively.  That means the glut has not come to a definitive end and consumer prices are unlikely to rise.  But at the moment, prices for sending data traffic at least appear to be stabilizing, providing a welcome reprieve for companies that operate the so-called backbone of the world’s telecommunications infrastructure.

. . .

What’s behind the increased demand for network capacity?  Industry executives and Prof. Odlyzko say video sent via the Internet is a key driver.  That includes the increasing distribution of movies online, many sent illegally.  On local (p. B4) phone networks that reach into most homes and offices there has never been excess capacity, and carriers like Verizon Communications Inc. are spending billions to beef up local connections to handle tasks like video.

. . .

Level 3 Chief Executive James Crowe admits "our crystal ball got cracked pretty badly there" during the tech boom, but says on Level 3’s network now "there’s every sign that inventory that was up on the shelf is being drawn down and in some areas even exhausted."

 

 

For the full story, see:

MARK HEINZL and SHAWN YOUNG.  "With Rising Internet Traffic, Spare Fiber-Optic Lines Fill Up."   The Wall Street Journal  (Thurs., April 27, 2006):  B1 & B4. 

In China Too, Special Interest Groups Lobby Against Free Markets

RisingForeignInvestmentInChina.gif Source of graphic:  online version of WSJ article cited below.

 

(p. A1)  BEIJING — When Chinese President Hu Jintao visits the U.S. in mid-April, he is sure to field tough questions about Beijing’s trade and economic policies amid a wave of rising protectionism.  But he also is grappling with a similar backlash at home.

Amid one of the longest and fastest growth streaks of any modern economy, China is wrestling with concerns from a rising wealth gap to corruption to environmental damage.  But the latest uproar has turned on foreigners, targeting the many outside investors that have piled into China and prospered — even while fueling much of the country’s growth.

. . .

(p. A8)  In some ways, the 63-year-old Mr. Hu faces a more complex situation than his predecessors, as China becomes more like the U.S., with greater tolerance of dissenting views and organized interest groups.  Resistance to some market-oriented changes is mostly driven by special interests such as disenfranchised farmers, private businessmen and ministries trying to hold on to their powers.  At the national legislature’s March meeting, lobbying by interest groups picked up markedly.

 

For the full story, see:

KATHY CHEN.  "Amid Tension With U.S., China Faces Protectionist Surge at Home."  The Wall Street Journal  (Fri., March 31, 2006):   A1 & A8.

Precariousness: In France it is Sought and it is Feared

Coombs and VanderHam on the April 3, 2006 extreme ski run, in which they both died.  Source of caption information, and of photo:  online version of the first NYT article cited below.

 

Some seem to seek risk:

(p. A1)  ”La Grave goes from tranquil to frightening and mad, and it’s so exhilarating to be in those moods,” Mrs. Coombs said in a telephone interview last week.  Her husband, she said, ”never found anything more perfect.”

Last month, Mr. Coombs slipped off a cliff and fell 490 feet to his death.  He was 48. He was trying to rescue Chad VanderHam, his 31-year-old protégé and skiing partner from the United States.  Mr. VanderHam had gone over the same cliff moments earlier.  He also died.

Their accident, during a recreational outing, has focused attention on extreme skiing and on this remote destination, high in the Alps about 50 miles east of Grenoble.

For the full story, see:

NATHANIEL VINTON.  "Skiing Beyond Safety’s Edge Once Too Often."  The New York Times (Wednesday, May 17, 2006):   A1 & C23.

 

Others seem to fear risk:

PARIS, April 8 – Standing amid the chaos of the protests here this week, Omar Sylla, 22, tried to explain why the French are so angry about what seems to many people like such a small thing: the French government’s attempt to loosen labor laws a bit by allowing employers the right to fire young workers without cause during a trial period on the job.

Even after President Jacques Chirac promised to shorten the period to one year from two, the protests continued, and French students and unions have vowed to keep demonstrating until the law is repealed.

”We need less precariousness, not more,” said Mr. Sylla, the son of immigrants from Ivory Coast, who still lives with his parents in a government-subsidized apartment in a working-class suburb of Paris.

Mr. Sylla said he had searched for years for a job before finding work about a month ago as a baggage handler at Charles de Gaulle International Airport.  Even then, he said, he only got the job because his sister works at the airport and pulled strings on his behalf.

For the full story, see:

CRAIG S. SMITH. "French Unrest Reflects Old Faith in Quasi-Socialist Ideals." The New York Times, Section 1  (Sunday, April 9, 2006):   8.

 

Economists have long puzzled at how the same person can both buy insurance and gamble in a casino.  The first seems an act of risk-aversion, and the second of risk-seeking.  (Milton Friedman, and others, have tried to explain the paradox.)

But I am puzzled by something else.  When risks are taken, why are they so often taken in arenas such as rioting in the streets, or extreme skiing, where they achieve no noble purpose?  Whatever risks one is going to take, why not take them in the arena of innovation and entrepreneurship, where the potential benefits to the innovator and to human progress, are huge?